sustainability

The entrepreneurs Tawfiq Nasr Allah (left, standing) and Benoit Illy (right, sitting down) at Fairbrics' lab in Clichy, France.

Courtesy of Fairbrics

Each year the world releases around 33 billion tons of carbon dioxide into the atmosphere. What if we could use this waste carbon dioxide to make shirts, dresses and hats? It sounds unbelievable. But two innovators are trying to tackle climate change in this truly unique way.

Chemist Tawfiq Nasr Allah set up Fairbrics with material scientist Benoît Illy in 2019. They're using waste carbon dioxide from industrial fumes as a raw material to create polyester, identical to the everyday polyester we use now. They want to take a new and very different approach to make the fashion industry more sustainable.

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Sarah Philip
Sarah Philip is a London-based freelance journalist who writes about science, film and TV. You can follow her on Twitter @sarahph1lip.

Recent leaps in technology represent an important step forward in unlocking artificial photosynthesis.

Photo by Johannes Plenio on Unsplash

Since the beginning of life on Earth, plants have been naturally converting sunlight into energy. This photosynthesis process that's effortless for them has been anything but for scientists who have been trying to achieve artificial photosynthesis for the last half a century with the goal of creating a carbon-neutral fuel. Such a fuel could be a gamechanger — rather than putting CO2 back into the atmosphere like traditional fuels do, it would take CO2 out of the atmosphere and convert it into usable energy.

If given the option between a carbon-neutral fuel at the gas station and a fuel that produces carbon dioxide in spades -- and if costs and effectiveness were equal --who wouldn't choose the one best for the planet? That's the endgame scientists are after. A consumer switch to clean fuel could have a huge impact on our global CO2 emissions.

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Ally Hirschlag
Ally Hirschlag is a Brooklyn-based writer and editor who covers mental health, women's rights, and sustainability among other things. In her spare time, she enjoys baking and channeling her anxiety into satire. You can find more of her work and musings on Facebook and Twitter.
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Dry, arid and remote farming regions are vulnerable to water shortages, but scientists are working on a promising new solution.

Photo by Amir Shahabi on Unsplash

California has been plagued by perilous droughts for decades. Freshwater shortages have sparked raging wildfires and killed fruit and vegetable crops. And California is not alone in its danger of running out of water for farming; parts of the Southwest, including Texas, are battling severe drought conditions, according to the North American Drought Monitor. These two states account for 316,900 of the 2 million total U.S. farms.

But even as farming becomes more vulnerable due to water shortages, the world's demand for food is projected to increase 70 percent by 2050, according to Guihua Yu, an associate professor of materials science at The University of Texas at Austin.

"Water is the most limiting natural resource for agricultural production because of the freshwater shortage and enormous water consumption needed for irrigation," Yu said.

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Katie Navarra
Katie Navarra is an award-winning writer who covers education, horses, farming, and business/leadership.

A new edible spoon is durable enough for mass market assembly and is already alleviating consumer waste.

(Photo credit: Max Milla and Janani/IncrEDIBLESpoon)


Sure, you may bring a reusable straw when you go out to eat. But what about digesting your silverware at the restaurant? The future is already here.

Edible cutlery feels like a natural progression post-reusable straw.

Air New Zealand just added the new edible coffee cup Twiice into their in-flight service. Made from vanilla, wheat flower, sugar, egg and vanilla essence, the Twiice cups will be standard issue for the international airline.

On the ground, the new, award-winning startup IncrEDIBLESpoon has shipped more than a quarter million edible scoopers. The spoons are all-natural, vegan, and made from wheat, oat, corn, chickpea and barley.

The technological breakthrough is in creating tasty, mass-market material durable enough for delivery in an assembly line environment like airplane service, as well as stable enough to hold a hot cup of coffee or a freezing scoop of ice cream. Twiice cups can last several hours after hot coffee is added, while IncrEDIBLESpoon cutlery holds up to 45 minutes.

"We already caught the interest of a couple major ice cream chains," says Dinesh Tadepalli, co-founder of the IncrEDIBLESpoon parent company Planeteer. "If all goes well, one of them will test out our spoons at their scoop shop early this year."

Next Up

Edible cutlery feels like a natural progression post-reusable straw. And more is already on the menu.

The coffee cup company Twiice is already planning on expanding. Co-founder Jamie Cashmore says other serving items are coming later this year.

IncrEDIBLESpoon is also getting into more utensils. "We plan to mass produce the complete set by year's end: Edible straws, edible forks and edible coffee stirrers," Tadepalli says.

Most notably, Twiice's partner Air New Zealand sees the coffee cup as just a start to other sustainable solutions. The airline estimates it currently serves eight million cups of coffee annually. It's even suggesting customers bring their own reusable cup to the plane – though that isn't as ergonomic nor as attractive as eating everything you are served.

Open Questions

Making everything edible has a few challenges. First is cultural acceptance: With respect to current success, changing eating habits will require going beyond eco-focused and curious eaters.

Second, it's unclear if the short-term economics will add up in favor of airline carriers and other companies. Like alternative fuel, organizations will be more likely to adopt new science when it doesn't require a retrofitting or expensive change to their current business model – even if it does create long-term benefits.

The changes will likely be lopsided, influencing cultures at different times. Airplanes are a great start, as passengers are a captive audience interested in removing waste as soon as possible.

"Imagine eating a black pepper spoon after your soup or a chocolate spoon after your ice cream?"

We can expect edible cutlery to make an easier impact with certain cultures or foods. For instance, injera, the spongy Ethiopian bread, has served as an African plate of sorts for years. It makes sense that IncrEDIBLESpoon's four flavors, Salt, Masala, Spinach and Root, all fit in another bread-as-plate friendly culture: Indian.

Coffee and desserts sound like a good bet for now, though, especially for foodies. "People are curious to try edible spoons as they never heard or experienced them before," Tadepalli says. "Imagine eating a black pepper spoon after your soup or a chocolate spoon after your ice cream?"

Damon Brown
Damon Brown co-founded the popular platonic connection app Cuddlr. Now he helps side hustlers, solopreneurs, and other non-traditional entrepreneurs bloom. He is author of the TED book "Our Virtual Shadow" and, most recently, the best-selling "The Bite-Sized Entrepreneur" series. Join his creative community at www.JoinDamon.me.

Algae in the Mediterranean sea.

(© damedias/Adobe)


Was your favorite beach closed this summer? Algae blooms are becoming increasingly the reason to blame and, as the climate heats up, scientists say we can expect more of the warm water-loving blue-green algae to grow.

"We have removed a significant development barrier to make algal biofuel production more efficient and smarter."

Oddly enough, the pesky growth could help fuel our carbon-friendly options.

This year, the University of Utah scientists discovered a faster way to turn algae into fuel. Algae is filled with lipids that we can feed our energy-hungry diesel engines. The problem is extracting the lipids, which usually requires more energy to transform than the actual energy we'd get – not achieving what scientists call "energy parity."

But now, the University of Utah team has discovered a new mix that is more efficient and much faster. We can now extract more power from algae with less waste materials after the fact. Paper co-author Dr. Leonard Pease says, "We have removed a significant development barrier to make algal biofuel production more efficient and smarter. Our method puts us much closer to creating biofuels energy parity than we were before."

Next Up

Algae has a lot going for it as an alternative fuel source. It grows fast and easily, absorbs carbon dioxide, does not compete with food crops for land, and could produce up to 60 times more oil than standard land-based energy crops, according to the U.S. Department of Energy. Yet the costs of algal biofuel production are still expensive for now.

According to Science Daily, only about five percent of total primary energy use in the United States came from algae and other biomass forms. By making the process more efficient, America and other nations could potentially begin relying on more plentiful resources – which, ironically, are more common now because of climate change.

Algae fuel efficiency is already a proven concept. A decade ago, Continental Airlines completed a 90-minute Boeing 737-800 flight with one engine split between biofuel and aircraft fuel. The biofuel was straight from algae. (Other flights were done based on nut fuel and other alternative sources.) The commercial airplane required no modification to the engine and the biofuel itself exceeded the standards of traditional jet fuel.

The problem, as noted at the time, is that biofuels derived from algae had yet to be proven as "commercially competitive."

The University of Utah's discovery could mean cheaper processing. At this point, it is less about if it works and more about if it is a practical alternative.

However, it's unclear how long it will take for algae to become more mainstream, if ever.

Open Questions

Higher efficiency and simpler transformations could mean lower prices and more business access. However, it's unclear how long it will take for algae to become more mainstream, if ever. The algae biofuel worked great for a relatively sophisticated Boeing 737 engine, but your family car, the cross-country delivery trucks and other less powerful machines may need to be modified – and that means the industry-at-large would have to revise their products in order to support the change.

Future-focused groups are already looking at how algae can fuel our space programs, especially if it is more renewable, safe and, potentially, cheaper than our traditional fuel choices. But first, it is worth waiting and seeing if corporations and, later, citizens are willing to take the plunge.

Damon Brown
Damon Brown co-founded the popular platonic connection app Cuddlr. Now he helps side hustlers, solopreneurs, and other non-traditional entrepreneurs bloom. He is author of the TED book "Our Virtual Shadow" and, most recently, the best-selling "The Bite-Sized Entrepreneur" series. Join his creative community at www.JoinDamon.me.